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>> WEEKENDER'S TRUSTY FOOD REVIEWER AND HIS WIFE PAY A VISIT TO THE INN AT WILLOW GROVE
Vintage Restaurant at Inn at Willow Grove

 One for drama, Vintage scores high marks on presentation. Above: Fried calamari.
ELIZABETH RABIN
Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 1/31/2013

BY KURT RABIN

Elizabeth: Can you believe it's been a year since we started reviewing restaurants?

Kurt: And what better way to celebrate that one-year anniversary than having gone to an establishment many consider the finest our area has to offer.

She: That would be Orange County's Vintage Restaurant, at the recently renovated Inn at Willow Grove, which rests on 37 acres and dates back to 1778.

He: I'd be hard-pressed to think of a better meal over the past 12 months, when you take into account the inn's dramatic setting, ambience, food and presentation.

She: Atmosphere is a big factor, and Willow Grove has it in spades: water fixtures, fireplaces and glass everywhere, reflecting all of the light. The decor was proof that Vintage is a class act and that we were in for a true "dining experience."

However, the food didn't meet the promise of the surroundings. It was delicious, well-prepared and presented, but for the most part I felt like I was eating air. The taste of the breading on my calamari tapa canceled out the briny taste of the squid. And my chicken-fried ahi tuna was similarly subtle in a "blink and you'll miss it" kind of way. Compared to meals at other places we've visited this year, the food was almost "quiet."

He: I've got to confess to being ravenous after our long wait for entrees. We'd been seated an hour and all I'd had to eat was a single-bite amuse-bouche of horseradish-crusted salmon and a tempura-shrimp tapa, consisting of a single shrimp, albeit exquisitely presented with winter-melon salsa.

However, my venison with its roasted tomatoes and port-wine reduction exceeded expectations. And the sides of cocoa spaetzle and braised chard complemented the protein perfectly, resulting in the loveliest, best-tasting plate of food I've been served all year long.

She: Another place that takes a similar approach to Vintage's is Elmwood at Sparks, also in Orange, where they're trying to do American or Southern food with a twist. But there was still a heartiness to the meal there. I think the phrase "urban meets plantation style" in Willow Grove's brochure is key here. It's an interesting mix that they almost have down.

He: I hate to rub it in, but the chocolate creme-caramel Bundt cake I had for dessert was marvelous.


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What: Vintage Restaurant at Inn at Willow Grove

Address: 14079 Plantation Way, Orange

Info: 540/317-1206; innatwillowgrove.com

Hours: 5:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday (brunch only)

Prices:

Appetizers: $9-$16

Dinners: $25-$38

Desserts: $9-$15

Tapas menu: $5 per plate (served Wednesdays only)

Beer, wine, mixed drinks available

The Scoop: Dine in understated elegance on beautifully presented food from ambitious menu.

Payment: Major credit cards accepted.